Remember, the ground rules for this series are using the 2018 roster (found on the forums at Operation Sports) as if James Franklin was in charge. The first opponent is Ole Miss. Vanderbilt won that game 36 to 29 in overtime to get their 5th win of the season and setup the chance to get to a bowl game by beating rival Tennessee the next week, which the real-life Commodores did. The virtual Commodores have to face them Week 1.
Just like in real life, there are some preseason awards and predictions. I noticed when checking the roster and depth chart that CJ Bolar had the All-American symbol. However, something is very broken with the preseason awards because an OLB is the 2nd Team All-American QB. My guess is that the preseason awards are somehow linked to the original players, which was jumbled when the roster editors went through to update the rosters. It is unclear how that rearranging meant CJ Bolar found his way to a preseason All-American list, but no other theory comes to mind. Meanwhile, the preseason poll has Vanderbilt at 79. First opponent Ole Miss is at 58.
As determined by the community polls, Cole Clemens edges out Saige Young for the LG spot, and Dimitri Moore is set for a redshirt. Since the Wildcat usage poll was a spectrum, I weighed using it more than 5 times since there was a plurality, not a majority who went with the least usage option. In the end, 4 snaps were run from the tricky formation. The sliders suggested by VU 327 (also from the forums at Operation Sports) were implemented after their test drive gave good results. That “test drive” will be discussed after the Ole Miss game and below the polls.
With the venue flipped, the jerseys got the same treatment. Vanderbilt had gone with the black jersey and pants paired with their white helmets using a special patriotic version of the Star V. The virtual Commodores went to Oxford in black helmets with white jerseys and pants.
The question that kept coming to me was figuring out how Franklin’s offensive plan changes with Shurmur at the helm. I admittedly have not watched enough of his Penn State to see how he handled Hackenberg or McSorley. I do know Shurmur is a better passer than any option Franklin had at Vanderbilt. That statement is not disrespecting any of the signal callers who did lead Vanderbilt to the best records since World War II. Shurms is a borderline NFL QB. Only Jordan Rodgers got any practice squad time, but he never had any real hope of making an active roster. Shurmur could conceivably be Patrick Mahomes’s backup in the near future.
I went with a PA Screen to Kalija Lipscomb and from there most of the gameplan was to use lots of short, quick throws with a screen thrown in occasionally and even a few deep shots. Intermediate or deep throws are often pressured which forces a handful of throwaways and 2 sacks. Ole Miss seemed intent on blitzing. The biggest offensive play for the Commodores was a screen to Ke’Shawn Vaughn against a jailbreak blitz that saw the speedy back go 57 yards for a TD.
The Wildcat, used 4 times, was also completely ineffective with gains of 2, 0, 2, and 0. The second gain of 2 was on a jet sweep to Pierce. The Commodore offensive line could not handle the heavy pressure Ole Miss decided to send when Vaughn lined up alone in the backfield. They were probably susceptible to a pass from Vaughn, but it seemed too risky.
In terms of risk management, the scoring had a lot to do with what Coach Anchor O’Gold did. The first points of the game came on Vanderbilt’s second offensive possession via a 5-yard dive play from Vaughn. With the Commodores looking for short quick completions and an Ole Miss attack predicated on the read option, there were only 37 seconds left in the 1st quarter. The teams would trade 3-and-outs before Ole Miss moved the ball near midfield but was left with a 4th down and lined up to punt. They caught the Commodores napping on a fake and converted easily with a pass from the punter. Ole Miss pushed down to get 1st and goal but would be stuffed on a HB draw, set back 5 yards on a read option blown up at the mesh, and stopped 3 yards short of paydirt on a screen. The FG attempt, covered with FG Safe just in case, was good and made the score 7-3 with 1:52 left in the first half.
Jared Pinkney made his mark on the ensuing Vanderbilt drive with consecutive receptions of 7 and 13 with the second reviewed and confirmed. Both catches also ended with the big TE stepping out of bounds to save clock. On a roll, Shurmur would spread the ball to Chris Pierce and CJ Bolar for 22 and 18 yards, respectively, with a couple of incompletions to Bolar and Lipscomb been them. The latter sets the Dores up near the goal line with 45 seconds remaining. Vaughn takes two cracks at it and grits into the endzone on the second try. Guay converts to give Vanderbilt a 14-3 lead.
Ole Miss ran the ball for 8 with Scottie Phillips then changed their minds and called a timeout. Jordan Ta’amu was sacked by Cameron Tidd on a 4-man rush then is forced into a checkdown for 2 yards. The Hail Mary attempt was literally thrown to the opposite half of the field than the WRs, so I am not sure what happened there.
Then the real story of the game came to light. Ole Miss would get the ball and drive to the Vanderbilt 32 before facing 4th and 2. The decided to go for it, and Scottie Phillips bounces to a 1st down. The Rebel joy is short-lived as Joejuan Williams snags a WR screen and gets Vanderbilt a start at their own 43. Vanderbilt tried a shot play on the change of possession that was broken up, but Vaughn’s 57-yard screen showed up on the next play to give Vanderbilt a 21-3 lead with 5:04 left in the 3rd quarter.
Ta’amu would again be picked off on the exact same play, also following earning a new set of downs, to the opposite side of the field. Donovan Sheffield one-upped Williams by taking his pick to the house. The very comfortable 28-6 lead with slightly more than half of the 3rd quarter left let the offensive attack be less risky against the very aggressive RebelBearSharks. Unfortunately, it would not stay at that margin for long as Ole Miss, helped by Josh Smith getting caught one-on-one with AJ Brown and giving 59 yards, would add a FG on their next possession to make it 28-6.
Three drives end in punts then Randall Haynie joins the pick party but makes no return on the sideline snag. Vanderbilt wastes the turnover, but Ta’amu throws ANOTHER pass to Donovan Sheffield who is disappointed to not get to make his second house call. Again, the Commodore offense does nothing before punting back to Ole Miss with 3:55 left in the game.
The Commodores stand tall on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down. Forced into 4th and 14, Ole goes for It from their own 26. Elijah Moore beats Elijah Hamilton from the slot, and the safety was busy helping on the outside for 45 yards. Three straight HB screens go for 23, -2, and 8 yards. The last one is a fantastic goal line stop by Max Worship. Alas, Ole Miss would punch it into the end zone on the next play to give them some hope by getting to 28-12 but fail on the 2-PT conversion with only 2:14 remaining.
The ensuing onside kick also fails with AoG favorite Colin Anderson making the recovery. Vaughn gets two carries of 4 and 0 years before some of that Franklin aggression comes out with a PA pass to Pierce nets 29 down to the Ole Miss 11. Vaughn goes for 9 on a stretch play to force the last Ole Miss timeout. Vaughn removes all doubt with a another gritty dive play to help extend the lead to 35-12 with 1:14 remaining.
The next Ole Miss drive goes throwaway, 14-yard completion, and then Joejuan Williams interception. Yes, the 5th interception thrown by Ta’amu effectively ends the game with Shurmur kneeling out the remaining clock to cap off the 23-point victory in Vaught-Hemingway. The final team stats see Ole Miss win almost every category. Vanderbilt had 11 first down, 47 yards rushing on 25 carries, 215 yards passing on 15/28 through the air while being 4/10 on the 3rd down. The Rebels got 17 first downs, 63 yards rushing on 30 carries, and 282 yards passing on 25/37 through the air while going 6/15 on 3rd, and 3/3 on 4th. The difference was no turnovers for Vandy and 5 (all INTs) for Ole Miss.
The individual stats are not much better. Vaughn had 63 yards on 18 carries but did punch in 3 TDs. Pierce (2 yards), Blasingame (4), and Lipscomb (7) all had 1 carry each. Shurmur being sacked twice then kneeling twice gave him -29 on the ground. Pierce had 4 catches for 75 yards. Lipscomb snagged 3 for 27. Pinkney hauled in 3 for 21. Bolar caught 2 for 24. Vaughn added 2 for 62. Tennyson also had 1 for 7. Defensively, Dayo made Ta’amu’s day tough by sacking him 3 times. Tidd’s 2 and Wright’s 1 kept Ta’amu under pressure from lots of angles. Williams and Sheffield benefited most with 2 picks each along with Haynie’s interception.
The defense got burned on a couple of big catches, but it was mostly sound. Most of the time man coverage with 2 deep safeties was used in an attempt to keep the electric WR corps the Rebels possess from doing even more damage. A few blitzes were utilized to attack the option. It was not Bob Shoop-style pressure at all, but the man coverage was clearly aggressive in its own right. The switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 creates an interesting dynamic where the size of the DL is massive for a 4-man front. That size probably helped by shoving back the OL an letting the linebackers, especially OLBs Josh Smith and Charles Wright blast through to keep Ta’amu from getting too loose.
Now, Coach Anchor O’Gold has to get the team ready for another SEC road trip. The next game is in Fayetteville, Arkansas where the 0-1 (0-1) Razorbacks wait after a tough loss at Kentucky to start their season. Arkansas’s offense sputtered nearly as much as Vanderbilt’s with 155 yards rushing and 146 yards passing. Their defense was slightly worse and allowed 180 yards on the ground and 183 through the air. The Hawgs also were a -1 in the turnover department, which pales beside the Dore’s +5. The home team is still picked to win the game.
This week, we need to decide how to attack. You all were lukewarm on bringing back Franklin’s dose of wildcat. It clearly did not work when I used it. Which I think would make you all vote for more of it if I offered it again. However, the Shurmur dynamic is still intriguing. I want input on how to handle the passing game. Also, with an opponent that seems to want to run the ball, should I stick with the 2-Man Under defense with 4-man rushes or use more 5-, 6-, or even 7-man pressures? The two polls will close at noon Wednesday. Of course, feel free to offer even more suggestions and ideas in the comments! Including on how this recap is presented.
How should Shurmur’s ability change Franklin’s offense?
This poll is closed
Slightly more short to intermediate passing
Very much open the passing game
Does the defensive scheme get more aggressive?
This poll is closed
Yes, use a little more pressure
Yes, bring LOTS of extra pressure
Okay, VU ’04 has clearly needed someone to exorcise some demons from August 2014. Even though the community chose not to have me go back to that season, I needed a test run for the new sliders. The perfect chance was against Temple. Not knowing exactly how the sliders would effect gameplay, along with knowing I had to juggle QBs. With those factors, could I unwet some hets?
True to life, Vanderbilt wins the coin toss and defers. The Black and Gold (sans “Anchor Down” nameplates) allows one first down before forcing a punt. I had messed up the opening kickoff by sending it high and short since my dynasty kicker has a much stronger leg than Colby Cooke, who had kickoff duties since kickoff specialist Hayden Lekacz is not even on the limited in-game rosters. As such, the punt bounced into the endzone for a touchback.
I started the game trying to emulate play calls as close as possible which meant starting QB Patton Robinette gets his number called first but goes nowhere (as opposed to a real life 3-yard gain). Both reality and video game see the Commodores go to 3rd down, but I complete a pass to TE Steven Scheu whereas Robinette was sacked. The break from reality bears no real change as I have to punt on that set of downs.
A reality-matching 3-and-out ensues for the Temple HetWetters. With the ball back, Scheu and Webb turn reality on its ear. The first play is an 8-yard carry by Webb that is shy of the real life counterpart, but Scheu’s 11-yard catch well outdoes the real life OPI by Webb on the ensuing play. Video game Webb goes for 10 and 14 on back-to-back carries. A Robinette throwaway then 1-2 punch of Webb and Rivers combines for 9 and a half yards down to the Temple 6. Webb converts off-guard on a play that ends up not mattering since an offside Owl gives more yardage, but Ralph follows that by slamming into the endzone to set off the Admiral, which the offense failed to do that night. The Commodores lead 7-0.
Temple responds by starting their next drive with a 12-yard run right up the middle. The first quarter ends after the next carry for 4. Walker’s legs then come into play for 2 significant plays, but the passing game falters with the Temple running attack getting no push. The ensuing punt from midfield again goes into the endzone. The Commodore offense comes out with a dive by Webb that squeezes out 6 yards. Steven Scheu then gets open for 19 yards before Webb takes a screen pass 58 yards to the house. Wow, THIS is how we all expected that game to actually go. Vanderbilt is up 14-0 not far into Q2.
Temple starts the next drive trying to get the ground game going with rushes of 4, 19, 14, and 9 yards from Kenneth Harper. The runs take advantage of first the Dime then three Nickel package due to spread formations from the Owls. Harper is spelled by Gilmore who takes advantage of an edge rusher losing contain to get 15 yards of his own. Temple has entered the red zone. Walker promptly scrambles for 13. The bleeding is stopped with a stuffed run and sack. A 3rd down completion only gets to the 7. The chip-shot field goal is good, and the score is 14-3 with 1:41 left in the half.
Stephen Rivers enters at QB for Vanderbilt. The reason is a bit unclear. Well, it is to anyone that doesn’t know what I’m doing here. Rivers immediately finds Steven Scheu who was literally completely uncovered on a 10-yard In route right across the middle with the athletic TE finding another 6 more yards after the catch. On the ensuing first down, Mason’s conservative nature shows up as Webb gets a carry for 6 yards, but then Dorrell is hit by an “Eff it! We’re going deep!” moment that gets thrown into double coverage but is only batted down. Back to the ground on 3rd and 4 at midfield with 47 seconds left in the half…and stopped to force a punt.
Temple starts at their 25 with 35 seconds left in the half and two timeouts. A throw away and sack end the half.
Darrius Sims shows the electric athleticism that was one of the few bright spots of that season to get the opening kickoff of the 2nd half to the Commodore 42. A short completion and stuffed run are followed by a sack on the play that real-life Rivers accidentally called after misreading his play sheet at Georgia. Yes, I had to call it. And a sack is way better than a pick 6.
Temple can only get 1 first down before being stopped in their tracks on 3rd and 1 at midfield. Another punt goes into the endzone.
A WR screen is blown up at the catch for a loss of 2 then Rivers misses a wide-open Duncan by skipping the ball 3 yards wide and 4 yards short on an out route. Yep. That feels pretty realistic. Although, Temple AGAIN leaving Steven Scheu WIDE FREAKING OPEN ON FOUR VERTS AND LETTING HIM TAKE IT THE REST OF THE WAY FOR A 82-YARD TOUCHDOWN FEELS VERY FANTASTIC! I am just surprised Rivers actually made the throw and did not throw it right to a LB who was about 10 yards under Scheu in a zone. 21-3 midway through the 3rd quarter feels good.
Temple gets two more big carries from Harper (15 and 10 yards in that order), but they sandwich an incompletion and sack to force a punt from Temple at their own 45. Sims muffs the punt though! I tried to override the “do not catch the ball inside the 10” AI, and the in-game Sims just ignored the ball as it hit is chest. Two stuffed runs are followed by PJ Walker missing a very open target while scrambling. A bullet has been dodged. The FG is good. The score is now 21-6 with 38 seconds left in Q3.
Webb gets his reliable 3 yards then Rivers misses an easy throw and takes a sack while ignoring two very easy and open options. The reason no throw was attempted was a stupid play-action animation that was very much like the uncoordinated Rivers. He has not looked good except with the Owls forget to cover the best receiver on the field.
Temple starts from their own 40 then leans on the running game out of 4-wide sets to get 7, 28, and 7 from Harper before Gilmore adds 12. Harper is then stopped just behind the LOS before Tyson is prevented from scoring by a brilliant effort by Andrew Williamson and Oren Burks to throw themselves into him as Tyson dove for the goal line. Temple goes 3-wide from inside the one, and uses a read option to get PJ Walker into the endzone. The Owls trail 21-12 with 4:18 left in the 4th then go for 2! From a similar formation, the play action pass is actually picked off by Torren McGaster, who is immediately tackled.
Rivers then misses another easy, short pass. And another that is nearly picked off. And finally misses Scheu downfield who was, yet again, wide open. The sliders are clearly good enough because without them Rivers probably hits his receiver on all 3. We all know how unrealistic that would have been.
From their own 46, Temple starts the next drive in a 2 TE set…which makes no sense because their success has all come in spread sets. They get 2 and add another WR for 2nd down. It doesn’t work when no one gets open, and Vince Taylor gets the coverage sack on a 3-man rush. PJ Walker bounces back with a 12-yard completion to set up 4th and 3 from the Vandy 47. The clock is at 2:48, and the Owls are down 9. They line up to go for it with 3 WRs, 1 TE, and Harper beside Walker. The Commodores stay in the base 3-4 with man across the board, 2 deep safeties, and a LB in a shallow central zone. The 3-man rush gets no pressure, but Tre Bell makes a clutch PBU to give the ball back to the Commodores.
AND HERE COMES JOHNNY MCCRARY! What would Karl Dorrell do with 2:30 on the clock, the ball near midfield, a 9-point lead, and using the 3rd QB of the night? 4. Damn. Verticals. Steven Scheu is on his own, motioned out to the wide side of the field. This time, Temple doubles him but leaves Latevius Rayford open for 27 yards. Mason yells through the headset at Dorrell to play it safe, and the next play is Webb on a dive that gets 13 BEFORE HE FUMBLES! Luckily, Jake Bernstein dives on it. Temple takes their first timeout with 2:11 left. A power run off the right gets 9 before Webb goes down instead of going out of bounds. Temple is forced into their 2nd timeout with 2:06 left and Vanderbilt 5 yards from adding 6 more points. A FB dive gets the 1st down but is short of the end zone. Temple is out of timeouts though. McCrary takes 3 knees then throws one out of the back of the endzone to run the clock out with the Commodores victorious! The Derek Mason era is off to a decent start. A win is a win, and 7 more points probably could have been put onto the board.
Temple only managed 28 yards passing with PJ Walker going 4/12. The Owls run the ball 39 times for 188 yards, get 11 first downs, and go 4/12 on 3rd down. Vanderbilt gets 230 yards through the air on a combined 9/18 and run the ball for 71 yards on 23 carries. The Commodores actually only have 9 first downs and go 2/9 on 3rd down. Both teams are 0/1 on 4th down, but Vanderbilt’s attempt was the intentional throw away by McCrary. The lone turnover was the Sims muffed punt. Temple wins TOP 16:13 to 11:47.
Individually, Robinette is 4/6 for 102 and a TD. Rivers is 4/10 for 101 and a TD. JMac is 1/2 for 27. Webb had 15 carries for 86 and a TD. McCrary lost 6 on the 3 kneeldowns. Rivers lost 14 on 2 sacks. Robinette lost 1 on a QB keeper read option. Dallas Rivers had 1 carry for 4 yards. FB Kellen Williams got 2 yards on his lone carry. Scheu makes 4 catches for 127 and a TD. Webb has 1 catch for 58 and a TD. Rayford has 1 catch for 27. Duncan lost 2 yards on his lone reception. Wilkins had 1 catch of 5 yards. Jordan Cunningham’s lone snag went for 15.
It was not pretty, but a win under ugly circumstances would have been vastly preferred to being drubbed by an American Athletic Conference team. The QB situation was not much better though. In real life, Rivers was also the most productive going 12/25 for 186 yards with an interception while Robinette was 4/6 for 38 yards. Johnny McCrary was an abysmal 0/3 with 2 interceptions. The real standout when looking back over this game to try and replicate it on some level was that Vanderbilt turned the ball over 7 (SEVEN!) times. Those turnovers gave Temple the ball at the Vandy 40, 37, 14, and 20. There was also the scoop and score on the Rivers sack along with an interception at Temple’s 5 that they brought back to their own 25. Vanderbilt failed in every way imaginable that night. I was at least able to succeed in some very marginal ways. Enough to win…and maybe slightly unwet VU ‘04’s het.